Video game corporations mass employee firings

What is going on?

Video games had a major year in 2023, with the release of Baldur’s Gate 3, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Spider-Man 2, Street Fighter 16, and much more. Money was flowing into the market, and companies were fighting over consumer interest to be seen. Why then, did 2023 also mark the beginning of a number of mass employee firing sprees?


Video game news sources have been rife with information on these instances since the start of 2023, and the beginning of 2024. Sources like Euro Gamer, Game Spot, and Polygon have all covered the issue, as well as notable gaming news channels on YouTube such as GameRanx, IGN, and Skill Up. It seems as though the news is everywhere, and with so many layoffs being introduced every few weeks, the issue seems dire. Unity Technologies laid off over 250 employees in January 2023, leading to a disappointing launch for Halo Infinite’s multiplayer and reportedly affecting Bethesda game studios negatively. EA reportedly laid off 6 percent of its workforce in March of last year, with Unity following in May after cutting an additional 8 percent of its employees loose. September was seemingly a big month for layoffs, as Ubisoft shut down their London operations, and Epic Games fired roughly 380 employees. Bungie let people go in October, and in November Ubisoft struck again, releasing another 124 employees. November also saw layoffs from Digital Bros, Amazon Games, and once again Unity Technologies, while December saw a smaller company, Free Radical Design, lose 80 employees.


As if all of 2023 was not enough of an ill omen, January 2024 brought in the big guns. Unity Technologies struck again, Riot Games followed, and Microsoft Gaming laid off 30 percent of its workforce. In February, Sony Interactive Entertainment laid off 900 employees, and EA struck again as it laid off 670 staff members. The year is off to a rough start, which is not a good sign considering the heavy hitters that are being released this year in gaming. While many studios suffering from layoffs are smaller, independent studios, the layoffs are much more concerning coming from the larger game studios like Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft, Unity Technologies, and EA. 


The reasoning for these layoffs vary from company to company, with a few being affected by an internal restructuring for Embracer. In general, the statements given by larger companies like Sony and Microsoft were not accepted well by the general public or by the many outlets covering the news. Sony claimed they had not made their PS5 sales target, while Microsoft’s statement claimed to reduce areas of overlap within their internal structure (with the department most heavily affected being their physical media department, making it hard to produce games). Unfortunately, words from these multi-billion dollar companies fell flat, especially when the owner of the companies and the people announcing the layoffs are wealthy beyond what is ethical or needed.


Ultimately, there has been widespread disappointment and anger directed toward these companies. Crafting a game is unlike crafting a film, in that, with film, it can take a mere two years before  it can be released to the public. Games, especially on a AAA level, or even an A level, take many years to make. Many games have been in the making for a decade or longer. The employees working in this industry have dedicated decades of their life, often to single games. Getting back in the saddle is a difficult feat, given the energy it takes to do so, coupled with the fact that it is a very competitive and growing industry. These employees have effectively been thrown out in the cold, likely without the necessary support for maintaining status in the gaming realm. In addition to asserting their greed, many of these companies have shot themselves in the foot, making future productions hard.


Activision Blizzard is Microsoft’s latest acquisition, and one that took years to finalise given the industry’s fear that it would open the door to a monopoly. Unfortunately, what was supposed to make Microsoft a powerhouse has now turned into the opposite, as many of the layoffs have negatively affected them, and in turn their neighbour, Bethesda. The Call of Duty series, Crash Bandicoot, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the Elder Scrolls series, and Diablo were among some of the heavy hitters now legally under Microsoft’s belt, but going forward, they likely cannot do much with these titles or with the studio that produced them due to their firing spree. Likewise due to their lacking physical media department, they have had to outsource some of their physical media production to Limited Run Games, a company most known for its distribution of collector’s box sets or limited indie games. While Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s gaming division, has stated that they do not plan to phase out their physical media, their latest moves have had fans and collectors sceptical and incredibly worried for what this might mean.

Gabriel Theriault – Argosy Illustrator

While digital gaming is what companies seem to be leaning towards as of late, there are many gamers that find this troubling because there is no legal protection over the copies that you buy. Should a company decide they wish to shut down the servers, or that they do not wish to continue selling a particular game, they could do so without warning, and your copy will be lost without backup. While this may sound like paranoia, it has happened in the past and could very well happen again given the hard push for digital gaming. Of course, we can only trust that Microsoft will follow through on their word, but it is understandable that fans are worried about this sudden move.


All in all, these layoffs are incredibly worrying, and could lead to severe consequences moving forward. The past few years have given the gaming community many large games, and that trend is only continuing, with the announcement of upcoming games such as Grand Theft Auto VI, Monster Hunter Wilds, Fable 4, Hades 2, and Marvel’s Wolverine. Not only will there be new games to enjoy going forward, but we are reaching the mid-life cycle of major consoles like XBox, and Playstation. This means pro-versions of these platforms may be released or announced soon, and while this is long overdue, we are finally getting a sequel to the Nintendo Switch, showcasing the beginning of the end of a lot of drama regarding its software and hardware. Things are exciting and new in the world of gaming, but with such a multitude of empty seats in the development sector, it may mean longer wait-times for games, software, hardware, and physical media. It may also indicate a change in the quality of games that are released.


While many games come with bugs on their launch, they often come with day one patches. However, as of late there has been a seeming increase in buggy games being sold to the public, often taking a significant amount of time to fix. In some cases, companies do not acknowledge the issues. Bethesda, for example, has taken to gaslighting on Steam and social media, telling consumers that Starfield is not a buggy game, it is simply the player’s fault for not recognizing its potential. Likewise, highly anticipated games like Redfall suffered from so many bugs that, while initially making great sales, was so badly executed that customer reviews could not have been worse. The game is practically unplayable. Unfortunately, given the state of studios’ empty offices, this may only worsen over time.


The industry may, however, get better in the future. More money made by these studios may prove to be invested properly in the services it takes to up the ante. Given the executive decisions by many of these companies, however, it does seem doubtful that this would be the case. The greed of capitalism has once again struck, and while there has been a lot of good news in gaming to counter this issue, it seems like an unavoidable black mark on the industry. Hopefully these former employees are able to catch a good break and find a job that sparks joy and passion within them.

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